Browsing through the May 6, 1933 issue of the New Yorker I was struck by this short story. It has a “voice” that you don’t hear these days, although it was one which was highly regarded when I was growing up. It’s sort of dispassionate, sort of removed, what you might call an objective voice. Matter-of-fact.
I’ve written a short story in this voice. I worked hard on it, trying to capture the intensity of an experience I’d had. When I had the thing written as clearly as I could, when I had honed and refined it until I felt like “yeah, this is it!” —-I gave it to another writer to check out. She said “it reads like stage directions.” Not so good, not the effect I was hoping for.
“The Short Life of Emily” is the sort of thing I was hoping for. I didn’t expect it in a magazine from 1933- I thought that this voice was something that only existed in the cool of the post-war 1940’s, early ’50’s. I suppose this piece was ahead of it’s time in that respect, but here it is, in good old-fashioned 1933.
My favorite moment in the story- the core of it- is this: “And this scene through which she is passing and has just passed is a scene… in her history as important, it might be, as Roncesvalles to Roland or Yorktown to General Washington and his aides.” The scene she is describing is the moment Emily notices that she is alive. The theme is something like the theme of Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” which, I am surprised to see, was published three years later. Not that old Hem would have stolen this idea, of course- he was just working the same vein.
As usual, today’s post can be found here. But only for today.